On September 12, the Daily Tar Heel reported that the $120,000 PAC led by Julia Grumbles would not be forming.

In an email sent by Grumbles to neighbors on September 18th, the reason becomes clear: instead of forming a new PAC, they plan to donate tens of thousands of dollars to the existing CHALT PAC, called the Chapel Hill Leadership PAC.

What is CHALT?

CHALT is an “anti-development community group” that has “opposed nearly every major development proposal” in Chapel Hill since its inception in 2014/2015. They formed a PAC in 2017,  recruit and endorse local candidates to run for elected office, and are very influential in local elections.

Grumbles writes that her “esteemed neighbor Don Liner” already sent the missive to a “ton of people” in their neighborhood in the historic district. Liner retired from UNC in 2003.

The Liner letter promotes the Searing slate, and outlines a strategy for a get-out-the-vote campaign “aimed at those who are dissatisfied with our town government.” The email notes that the team “will be working with advice and assistance from several people who have extensive experience in election campaigns.”

Last week, a News and Observer reporter reached out to Brent Comstock, a political consultant mentioned in Grumbles’ original email about the formation of the $120,000 PAC. As of that date, he said he was not “currently engaged” in this project.

In the email to his neighbors, Liner outlines what motivates his support for the CHALT/Searing slate: “During our struggle against the town’s proposal to eliminate single-family zoning and invite developers of multi-unit apartment buildings into our family neighborhoods, which was supported by an eight-to-one majority on the council, we realized that we needed a new and improved mayor and town council.”

(We’ll note this is inaccurate. In June, the town voted to allow duplexes – after eliminating triplexes and quads from the plan after Liner and neighbors protested vociferously. There are no plans to allow apartment buildings into existing residential neighborhoods, and that was never on the table. Additionally, the “eight-to-one majority” remark is also incorrect. The town council vote was 6-3, with council members Berry, Ryan and Searing voting against).

The email outlines how supporters should now donate to the CHALT PAC instead of the $120,000 PAC that Grumbles was spearheading. “This effort will require substantial funds for mailings, advertisements, and support of canvassing efforts,” Liner writes. “To ask for donations to this cause, we are required by law to use a Political Action Committee….Instead of forming a separate PAC on short notice, we will be working through an existing one, the Chapel Hill Leadership PAC.  This PAC was created several years ago to use for political efforts of the organization called Chapel Hill Alternatives [sic] for a Livable Town (CHALT), but it can be used–and has been used–as a conduit for donations to other worthy local causes.

In addition to making donations to individual candidates up to the maximum of $357, anyone can contribute up to $6,400 to a PAC, provided they give their name, address, phone number, employer, and job title (if employed).”

Liner also details an on-going canvassing project that “benefit[s] greatly from the organizational genius of Will Raymond, an expert who has created online programs for guiding canvassers to the right household at the right time and keeping track of contacts.”

Triangle Blog Blog has obtained screenshots of Raymond’s campaign website, OC2023.com,  from a current user. The website has a large banner across the top that says “Please be careful sharing this information. A leak would help the opposition and undercut our efforts and strategy.”

The website details the demographics of likely voters, based on past elections. It also contains an interactive map with detailed canvassing information for households in Chapel Hill with their past voting history.

A screenshot of the canvassing website set up by Will Raymond

As we noted earlier, the original $120,000 goal is substantially higher—by a factor of 5—than any candidate has ever spent in a cycle in recent electoral history. (It’s also roughly 10x what CHALT’s PAC spent in the 2015 cycle.) It’s a blatant attempt to use concentrated wealth to hijack the local election campaign with fear and propaganda, paid for by the wealthiest members of our community

Raymond’s website targets 17,052 likely voters in the age range 34-73.

Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....